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BY: David Magee
DETROIT -- The North American Car of the Year award has been bestowed -- the Hyundai Elantra is the winner, surprising company officials.
The Elantra beat out competing finalists Volkswagen Passat and the Ford Focus to claim the honor at the open of the 2012 North American International Auto Show at Cobo Center. Media days for the Detroit auto show began Monday morning, before it opens to the public on Jan. 14.
"The 2012 Hyundai Elantra isn't a winner because it's a compact car with an available rear camera and heated rear (yes, rear) seats in top-of-the-line Limited trim. It's a winner because even the base GLS provides a capable and fuel-efficient engine, responsive transmission, comfortable ride and quiet cabin at highway speeds -- all for less than $16,000," said Karl Brauer, of Edumunds.com, a juror for the 2012 North American Car and Truck of the Year Awards.
"The upscale interior, stylish exterior and super-long warranty are just icing on this very cost-effective cake."
The win for another major accomplishment for Hyundai in recent years, the South Korean-based automaker that has a manufacturing plant in the United States and has been gaining traction consistently with its sedans and compact cars in North America.
The Land Rover Range Rover Evoque won the North American Truck of the Year in the awards ceremony Monday morning.
The car and truck of the year awards, in a 19th year, are chosen by 50 automotive journalists. To be eligible, a vehicle must be all new or substantially changed. Finalists for the truck of the year award included the BMW X3, Honda CR-V and the Land Rover Range Rover Evoque.
This year America's Big Three automakers arrived at the auto show in the best shape as a whole in years, yet they didn't claim one of the top honors given out annually. It's the first time since 2006 a U.S. automaker didn't claim one of the honors. In the truck of the year awards, juror Frank Aufoker of Driveways said of the Land Rover Evoque that "there's only one totally new vehicle in this class, which should not even be classified as a truck."
But juror Dan Carney of MSNBC.com said the Evoque "is impressive for its combination of styling fantasy with real-world capability."
The Elantra seemed to have little debate among jurors in claiming the car of the year award.
Said juror Ken Gross of Playboy: "Beaucoup bang for the buck, impressive mileage; it feels like a more expensive car."
Still, Hyundai, which builds the Elantra at its Alabama plant, was surprised by the honor. Executives spoke as if they didn't see it coming, just like when the company won the award in 2009 with its Hyundai Genesis.
"We're very surprised," Hyundai America CEO John Krafcik said. "We're humbled. It's an amazing honor."
Another year, another Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama production record and another sales record for Hyundai Motor America. And the records weren't just broken, they were smashed.
Sales of Hyundai Motor America vehicles in 2011 were up 20 percent over 2010's record-breaking sales year.
Hyundai's U.S. sales of the Montgomery-made Sonata and Elantra were up 15 and 41 percent, respectively, in 2011.
Meanwhile, production of the two vehicles was up a combined 41.8 percent in 2011, according to numbers released this week. That increase was possible in part by shifting production of the Hyundai Santa Fe to Kia Motor America's West Point, Ga., plant in 2010.
In all, HMMA produced 12.5 percent more vehicles in 2011 than it did in 2010.
But sales were so high that even with the Montgomery plant working two 10-hour shifts five days a week for most of 2011, many vehicles had to be imported from South Korea.
Hyundai sold 186,361 Elantras last year while HMMA produced 78,188 for sale in the U.S. Meanwhile, HMMA produced 209,424 Sonatas for American dealerships; 225,961 Sonatas were sold. The Sonata Hybrid is made in South Korea.
HMMA is one of the River Region's largest employers with about 2,600 employees. In 2010, HMMA and its suppliers' total economic impact on the state was estimated at $3.8 billion. Its expanded engine plant, a $173 million investment, will open soon.
But if Hyundai has plans for further expansion, those plans haven't been announced. A year ago, John Krafcik, Hyundai Motor America CEO, hinted at a possible second U.S. plant to boost production. He said a decision probably would be made after 2011.
Hyundai representatives could not be reached Wednesday to discuss any possible expansion plans.
But Montgomery Mayor Todd Strange said that he hasn't had any conversations along those lines.
"We are ready, willing and able to accommodate them when they decide they are ready willing and able," he said.He called the recent sales figures a "tribute to the company
We commend and we congratulate Hyundai for the great success they have had," Strange said.For the month of December, Hyundai's overall U.S. sales were up 13 percent over December 2010.
"December was another record-setting month and 2011 a record-setting year for Hyundai," Krafcik said in a news release Wednesday. "Hyundai sold a record 645,691 units this year, built over 420,000 cars right here in the U.S., and achieved an industry-leading 36.1 miles per gallon (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) level doing it.
"Sonata's retail sales performance in 2011 was a real highlight for us. Along with Camry, Accord, Civic, and possibly Altima, the Hyundai Sonata was one of only five cars in the entire industry with retail sales (excluding fleet) over 200,000 units."
There were two Hyundai makes that saw a decrease in sales last year. The Santa Fe, down slightly from 76,680 to 2010 to 74,391 in 2011, and the Azera.
But Hyundai's premium models performed well, according to the company, with Genesis sales increasing 13 percent over 2010. The Equus had sales of 3,193 in its very first year.Kia, Hyundai's sister company, saw a 36.3 percent sales increase in 2011.
Capitol Hyundai is proud of our Sonic families and happy to let our community know of significant accomplishments within our numbers.
In that light, we wanted to recognize young Jeff Wiggins, the son of Sonic Regional Vice President, Jeff Wiggins. Jeff recently competed in the Alabama Taekwondo Sparring Championships and finished as the Silver Medalist in his group. Jeff has been involved in Taekwondo for the past two and a half years, and at the age of nine, has already attained his black belt. Congratulations to both father and son on this fine accomplishment.
The Hyundai Genesis was awarded the North American Car of the Year Award at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit, MI. This award, which has been given annually since 1994, is designed to recognize vehicles based on factors that include innovation, design, safety, handling, driver satisfaction, and value. The award winner is selected by 50 automotive journalists from the US and Canada who represent magazines, television, radio, newspapers and Web sites.
Hyundai's luxury offering made history by being the first vehicle from a South Korean automaker to even be a finalist for the award, chosen by automotive media from around the world.
The rear-wheel drive, five passenger sedan boasts an upscale interior that many has been compared with the original 1990 Lexus LS, the car that made Toyota a success in the luxury market.
On September 19, 2008, Capitol Hyundai was proud to serve as a sponsor for the Partners In Education Chairty Golf Tournament. This annual event is designed to benefit Catholic Education programs in Montgomery and we are happy to report the 2008 tournament netted $83,000. Capitol Hyundai sposored the Hole-in-one contest for 2008. We at Capitol Hyundai are proud to be a member of our community and we take great pride in being actively involved in the River Region of Alabama.